Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Smiling: Huh, it Actually Works

During the Christmas holidays, everyone shares stories of how they went out of their way to touch someone's life. I love these stories.

I've never been a fan, though, of stories where a person smiles at another and it makes a dramatic difference: lightening someone's mood, helping someone make good decisions that day, inspiring someone to help another and causing a ripple effect, etc.

It's not that I don't value smiling at people. I just think people should do something a little more spectacular. Something that makes a real difference.

I had an experience, though, that changed my mind.

Back when I lived in Utah, we had a long, frigid winter. I smile to people I pass as a matter of course (another reason not to take stock in the magic of holiday-smiling), and I noticed that people would start out grumpy and seem surprised when I smiled. I figured the cold was dampening everyone's mood. I decided to make it a point of smiling, since it seemed like they needed it.

I approached this one guy in the snow who seemed particularly down. On my way past him, I gave him the brightest smile I had. As soon as I had my back turned to him, I heard him say these three words:

"I love you."

It took me four paces before it sunk in. I looked over my shoulder, but he was still walking away as if he hadn't said anything.

He wasn't on a cell phone, and there wasn't anyone else around he could have said it to. He must have meant me. The really odd part wasn't just that he said it, but the way he said it: with deep sincerity, almost with fervor, like he was speaking to a lover.

I'm still scratching my head over it, but I guess this proves the value of something as simple as a smile.


  1. That was such a unique story. Sounds like your smile brightened his day.

  2. I once worked for a department store and this elderly lady would walk the length of the store every afternoon at exactly 2pm. She wore an old housecoat and slippers and she had one of the most sour expressions I ever saw on a human being. One day I stopped what I was doing and gave her a big smile as she passed by me. She paused, looking confused, and then every line on her face turned upward. Suddenly she had the most beautiful face I'd ever seen. It's been thirty years but I still remember her.

  3. I think you know that I'm a big believer in the power of a simple smile in helping others. I have had countless experiences where I could tell that smiling helped cheer another person up. One of my favorite smiling stories of the recent past, however, was at graduation at Cambridge. The ceremony is very formal and the chancellor, whom you kneel in front of for graduation, was very serious in demeanor. I was pretty darn happy about graduating and had a huge smile on my face, and when I started smiling, he looked at me and started smiling too. It was a neat experience!


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